Jul 29, 2011

Tradecraft: Allen and Finney Reprise Bourne Roles

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Joan Allen and Albert Finney are in negotiations to join Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz and Oscar Isaac in Tony Gilroy's franchise spin-off The Bourne Legacy for Universal. Allen will once again play CIA operative Pamela Landy, a role she played in the last two Bourne films. Finney will reprise his Bourne Ultimatum role of Dr. Albert Hirsch, the head of the Agency's controversial Treadstone program, which essentially brainwashed volunteers into being perfect assassins. Gilroy co-wrote the first three Bourne movies, based on the character created by Robert Ludlum. The character of Bourne himself (revealed in the last film to actually be former special forces soldier David Webb) will not appear in this entry, which instead focuses on another Treadstone agent played by Renner.
Teaser: Exclusive Interview With Burn Notice's Lauren Stamile Coming Soon

Last week I had a fairly epic conversation with the newest spy on Burn Notice, Agent Pearce herself, Lauren Stamile (who just happens to be a friend of mine). I've been endeavoring to transcribe it ever since. However, it's taking a while. But I do hope to have the whole interview up before her next appearance, next week. In the meantime, here's a brief taste sure to appeal to spy fans in particular!

00 Section: What can you tell me about Kim Pearce? [When Stamile was first announced for the role, the character's name was given as Kim Pearce.] Who is this character?

Lauren Stamile: You know what? First of all, I actually think her name is different. It's Pearce, and that's generally what people call her, is Pearce, but I believe it's Dani Pearce now. At least that's what it says on the call sheet. Nobody's ever called me by my first name; it's always Pearce. But I think it was originally Kim, and now it's been changed.

00: So Pearce is a CIA agent. How do you approach playing a spy?

LS: I've tried to approach my research for the show kind of from several different angles. You know, non-fiction research about spies and the CIA as well as graphic novels, more serious novels, more comedic novels.... It's very interesting to me because the mind of a spy is so wildly different from the mind of an actress! Spies don't like to call attention to themselves, and... [laughs] actors do!

00: I never thought of it that way!

LS: And I think also, just the, the kind of lonely existence is something that's kind of interesting to me. I don't think I'd be a very good spy, and so, what's been really important to me about getting into the head of a spy is, actually, I've had a lot of luck reading fiction, because a lot of the spy authors have former ties to, you know, the CIA.

00: Sure, some of my favorites do.

LS: Yeah, absolutely! Or, you know, the equivalent, in other countries. And so that has been really helpful to me.

00: Any particular books you recommend to get into that headspace?

LS: Yeah, the first one I read was that book you gave me, Thwarting Enemies at Home and Abroad. [Ed: William Johnson's great non-fiction guide to counterintelligence techniques that actually reads like one of Michael Westen's "how to" monologues.] That was the first one. And that was fantastic. After that, um, I started reading The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, and, um, have also... I've really, really, really gotten into Greg Rucka. I've read A Gentleman's Game, and I have to tell you, I'm gonna geek out for a second, but I was really upset when I finished it because I didn't have it to look forward to reading any more! And I'm reading all the Queen and Country graphic novels. I'm almost done with the second volume, and I think there are four. And then after I finish that I'm going to go and get Private Wars. I'm reading A Handbook of Practical Spying [published by the International Spy Museum]; I'm almost done with that.

00: I've actually never read that one.

LS: I'm in the middle of Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy [by Lindsay Moran], which is interesting because it's kind of got a comedic side to it, which is great, but a completely different voice.  So... let me see. I'm in the middle of about three right now.

00: That's certainly a great way to stay in... in the spy zone. Do you find yourself getting paranoid while you're in a spy headspace all the time?

LS: Well, it's interesting, I do find myself... yeah, I do! And I've questioned everything that people tell me! I just think it's funny. You know, if people tell me something, my first question is, are they lying?

00: Have you ever found yourself tailing someone on the street?

LS: [Laughs.] I have yet to do that.

Read the entire interview with Agent Pearce here.

Jul 28, 2011

New Johnny English Trailer

Universal has unveiled a new international trailer for Johnny English Reborn. It's not quite as good as the first one (maybe because a lot of the jokes are repeated from that), but it's got a lot of good new material worth seeing. Some hits (the bit with the cat, the old chestnut about attacking the old lady); some misses (the helicopter flying, the kung fu stuff), but overall I'm still really excited for this Rowan Atkinson spy spoof sequel! I also get a kind of Lindsay Shonteff vibe from some sequences... which I may be one of the few people in the world to mean as a compliment. That bit with the wheeled golf bag turning into a gatling gun or something could be right out of a Charles Vine Eurospy movie. This trailer also gives us more of a look at the new "English Women," Gillian Anderson and Rosamund Pike. Yeah, I'm definitely looking forward to this one!

More Sixties Spies in Latest League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Comic

Alan Moore's latest volume in his excellent comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (illustrated by Kevin O'Neill), like 2007's Black Dossier, features a host of well-known (and lesser-known) Sixties spies. The conceit of the series is that it takes place in a world inhabited by fictional characters. Some play major roles (James Bond featured heavily in Black Dossier, even though Moore did the character an injustice in his portrayal) and some just pop up randomly in small roles or background cameos. (George Smiley was seen assisting a Control-like M in Black Dossier, and John Drake and Toby Meres got quick mentions in dialogue.) Most of the Sixties TV spies in the new volume, Century: 1969, fall into the latter category.

Here, I feel I should issue a SPOILER WARNING. I promise I will not reveal any plot points, but one of the enjoyments in reading these comics is spotting the cameos as you go, so if you don't want to know in advance, read no further. If you want some heads-up as to who to look out for, or if you're not planning on reading it anyway, read on for just a few of the amusing references...

In the latest volume, which takes place (as the title indicates) in 1969, David Callan's smelly associate Lonely turns up as an informant for the sharp-dressed gangster Carter, from the Michael Caine movie Get Carter. Carter's relationship with Lonely is a mirror of Callan's. In the background of one panel, James Bond and Simon Templar appear to have had a small fender bender at a gas station. Bond's Aston Martin has rear-ended The Saint's Volvo (with its ST1 license plate), and Bond (looking a lot more like Sean Connery than the from-the-books design artist O'Neill gave him in Black Dossier) looks ready for some road rage as he swings his golf club at the unflappable Templar (in the well-coiffed guise of Roger Moore). Adam Adamant looks on as he gasses up his Mini. Adamant turns up again, later, in a discotheque with some funny dialogue. There are numerous Avengers references, including a copy of The Winged Avenger available from a news agent and a direct reference to the villain from the Cathy Gale episode "Warlock." (Sadly neither Steed nor any of his partners make a physical appearance that I could spot, though Emma played a large part in Black Dossier.) I was shocked that, as far as I could tell, there was no appearance by Jason King. Of all the Sixties ITC characters, he probably fits into Moore's universe better than anyone else - and embodies the spirit of Swinging London better than anyone else as well!

Jul 27, 2011

Tradecraft: Mission: Impossible Team Flees World's Greatest Detective

Last month, Box Office Mojo published an editorial advocating that Paramount's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol abandon its long-held December 16 release date to get away from the Robert Downey Jr. sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, scheduled by Warner Bros. to debut the same day. Today, Deadline reports that that has indeed happened. Paramount has shifted the fourth Mission: Impossible movie back a week to December 21. But is this a matter of fleeing one potential box office enemy only to run smack into another? That date pits Tom Cruise directly against Daniel Craig in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. While the Craig movie, directed by David Fincher (who was at one time slotted to direct Mission: Impossible III), will be rated R and the Cruise movie PG-13, I'm still not convinced they aren't going after the same audience. I know that my own loyalties will be seriously split! The new position also ensures that Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol will still be fresh over the lucrative Christmas holiday, but it will also face even more competition over those days, including Steven Spielberg's Tintin. It's also not clear how the date change will affect Mission: Impossible's number of IMAX screens. It will be competing directly with the 3D Tintin for those limited venues. Hopefully that hiccup will be resolved, as director Brad Bird actually shot some key action sequences on IMAX cameras, meaning that the image will expand vertically to fill the entire, giant IMAX screen during those moments, like Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. Personally, I'm worried that the new date will preclude me from seeing the film in IMAX, as I'm always away from Los Angeles - and away from real IMAX screens - for Christmas!
Tradecraft: Looks Like We Won't Meet Jane After All

Trade blog Deadline reports that Lifetime has passed on the Molly Parker pilot Meet Jane, which would have found the Deadwood actress (who made a memorable impression guest-starring on Human Target last season) playing a D.C. housewife enlisted by the FBI to spy on her husband, suspected of selling government secrets. The series wasn't picked up in the spring, but was still under consideration pending some retooling. Apparently the cable network still wasn't happy with it, as it's now officially not going forward. I liked the sound of this Scarecrow and Mrs. King-meets-Breach drama, so I'm sorry we'll never have the opportunity to see it.
Ad Campaign Ramps Up For Cinemax's Strike Back

These posters started popping up at bus stops all over LA last week, and I think they're pretty cool. To most Americans right now, BSkyB is just the broadcaster Rupert Murdoch was trying to buy when the News of the World scandal broke and his little phone tapping habits forestalled the deal. But it's also Britain's largest pay TV station, and the home of the original series of Chris Ryan's Strike Back. Now America gets Strike Back (minus the possessive, as author Chris Ryan has very little name recognition here) on Cinemax, though I hesitate to call it "the American version," as this 10-episode series is actually a co-production with BSkyB that manages to serve as a follow-up to the UK original by continuing that story (original star Richard Armitage pops up in a few episodes) and a brand new jumping-on point, with new stars, for US viewers. So rather than getting a straight-up remake, for once, we Americans are getting something that's part remake, part sequel. However you categorize it, it looks cool! Check out these two promo spots, which expand on what we saw in that first trailer last month:

Jul 25, 2011

Tradecraft: Oscar Isaac Joins The Bourne Legacy

Supposedly Oscar Isaac (Robin Hood) was one of the finalists to play the non-Damon, non-Bourne lead role in Tony Gilroy's Robert Ludlum spin-off The Bourne Legacy. As we know, he lost out to perpetual spy franchise fill-in Jeremy Renner. Now Deadline reports that Isaac has received a consolation prize. He will appear in The Bourne Legacy, in another (presumably smaller) part. According to the trade blog, "Isaac has just landed the role of 'Number 3,' another brainwashed assassin in the film, and it's a major role." All I've seen him in is Sucker Punch, and he did not impress me in that, but I don't think it was really his fault (nothing worked in that movie!), so I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
COMIC-CON: Extended Promo For Homeland

Showtime unveiled an extended teaser/promo for Homeland, the new spy series from 24 producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa. I think this modern-day spin on The Manchurian Candidate looks really good!

COMIC-CON: Haywire Trailer, Poster and Panel

Really spotty Internet connections kept me from posting timely updates from Comic-Con, but now I'll play catch-up after the fact. One of my favorite panels I attended was for Steven Soderbergh's upcoming spy movie starring mixed martial artist Gina Carano, whose non-acting background is offset by the presence of heavy-hitting, big-time actors like Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor and freshly-minted spy star Michael Fassbender. The trailer clearly seems to be cut around Ms. Carano's dialogue, as she barely speaks in it and doesn't exactly impress when she does, but it doesn't seem like the sort of movie where speaking really counts for much anyway. What she does do very convincingly is fight, and that seems like a more important skill set for as action-heavy a spy movie as Haywire. Furthermore, Carano demonstrated ample charisma in person on the panel. I remember the heady days of the early Nineties when the right combination of fighting ability and charisma could make an action star... and I liked them. Beyond Carano's performance, this trailer delivers some classic spy iconography in atmospheric shots of European cities and streets. It's a sort of spy movie Soderbergh hasn't attempted before, and I'm eager to see what he does with it. On the panel, he confessed that he's a fan of the spy genre, and that should come as little surprise to anyone who's seen his non-traditional espionage films like The Informant! or The Good German. (Unfortunately, nobody asked him about The Man From U.N.C.L.E.)

Besides the trailer, Soderbergh debuted a complete scene from the movie at the con in which Carano fights Fassbender in a hotel room. It's a particularly brutal smack-down, heightened by the fact that they're both in formal wear. It was clear from the clip that Soderbergh's still determined to light his interiors in a dim orange hues (is he just using the fluorescents in the room?), which I find kind of annoying, but it was also clear that Carano's skills will go a long way in convincing moviegoers of her character's black ops background. I kind of feared for Fassbender's life watching those punches land, and had no doubt that she was entirely capable of beating him up. (As it turns out, those fears were justified. Soderbergh shared that one misstep during shooting landed him briefly unconscious.)

Haywire opens in January.

Jul 21, 2011

Upcoming Spy DVDs: Hanna

DVD Active reports that Universal Studios Home Entertainment will release Joe Wright's hard-edged teen assassin movie Hanna on DVD and Blu-ray on September 6. According to the website, extras on both versions include an alternate ending (that I'm particularly keen to see; the ending was the only part I didn't really like about the movie), deleted scenes, "Anatomy of a Scene: The Escape From Camp G" (undoubtedly the coolest scene in the movie) and an audio commentary with director Wright. Further exclusive bonus features on the Blu-ray (don't you hate that?) include "Adapt or Die," a featurette on training, a making-of documentary cleverly titled "Central Intelligence Allegory," a featurette on the Chemical Brothers' awesome score called "Chemical Reaction" and "The Wide World of Hanna," a featurette about the film's impressive European locations. This La Femme Nikita-meets-Bourne with a teenage girl spy movie/fairy tale starring Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana is one of my favorites of the year so far, and I'm looking forward to adding the Blu-ray to my collection. And look! They even kept the cool poster art rather than slapping together a Photoshop montage for the DVD cover! Nicely done, Universal. Pricing has yet to be announced.

Jul 20, 2011

Upcoming Spy DVDs: Hong Kong Confidential

MGM's August wave of Limited Edition Collection MOD titles includes the 1958 Gene Barry spy movie Hong Kong Confidential. The plot has Barry as secret agent Casey Reed, out to locate a missing Arab prince in the Far East. It has to do with signing agreements and evil Communists and American missile bases - all the regular stuff for a 1950s spy movie. But that's not important. What's important is that Reed's cover is as a nightclub crooner. That's right, the Adventurer himself (and sometime Eurospy star) Gene Bradley (uh, Barry) is a spy masquerading as a nightclub singer. That's gotta be worth the ticket price alone! Hong Kong Confidential is also available on Netflix streaming. Other tangentially spyish titles in this crop of MOD movies include the Cold War sci-fi thriller The Incredible Melting Man and the decidedly not I Spy-ish (but still very cool) detective movie that reunited the I Spy cast of Robert Culp and Bill Cosby, Hickey and Boggs. All are available to pre-order now through SAE, but should be available from other outlets, too, come August 23.
Deal Alert: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete Series is 57% off for one day only on Amazon as the Gold Box Deal of the Day. That puts the total price at $84.99 instead of $199.92. That's a good bargain for the amazing Time-Life collection of all four seasons of the classic Sixties spy series plus about a billion great extras in an attache case package. It's also the only way that the show has been issued on DVD to date; individual seasons were never released. (Though you can find a few on their own through second-hand sellers on Amazon.) Read more about the features in this fantastic set here. Act fast; this special price expires tonight.
The Spy's Guide to Comic-Con 2011

Here we are again: San Diego Comic-Con International starts tomorrow! And it's packed with spy-related programming this year, right from the very beginning. Here's information on panels spy fans might want to attend, pasted from the official schedule on the official site. (I'd say that the Archer panel was the highlight last year, and would strongly recommend fans of the show to attend that one this time!)

Thursday, July 21

10:00-11:00 Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe— For fans of USA's hit series Burn Notice who've always wanted to know what happened before Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell) teamed up with Michael Weston and Fiona, Comic-Con attendees are invited inside the USA made-for-TV movie Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe, debuting on DVD exclusively at Comic-Con! The Burn Notice prequel chronicles what turned out to be the last military mission of former U.S. Navy SEAL Lieutenant Commander Axe and the expedition that took him from the jungles of Colombia to sunny Miami Beach. Go one-on-one with Bruce Campbell, star of Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe, and Burn Notice creator, writer, and executive producer, Matt Nix. Ballroom 20

11:15-12:15 Covert Affairs— For the first time, TV's sexiest spy show, USA Network's Covert Affairs, comes to Comic-Con! Spend some time with stars Piper Perabo (Annie Walker), Christopher Gorham (Auggie Anderson), Sendhil Ramamurthy(Jai Wilcox), Kari Matchett (Joan Campbell), Anne Dudek (Danielle), and Peter Gallagher (Arthur Campbell). Executive producers Doug Liman, Chris Ord, Matt Corman, and Dave Bartis also join the panel, moderated by the one-and-only Oded Fehr. Fans will get an insider's look into the action-packed world of Covert Affairs. Besides having questions answered about the exciting current season, fans will view exclusive video content featuring a sneak peek at upcoming episodes. There will also be surprise giveaways for audience members! Ballroom 20

4:00-5:00 Archer Screening and Q&A— This animated half-hour comedy revolves around the spy agency known as the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS) and the lives of its self-involved employees. Series creator Adam Reed (Sealab 2021,Frisky Dingo) and the show's voice-over actors discuss their daunting and enigmatic work of espionage, reconnaissance missions, and undercover surveillances -- which are all actually unmitigated occasions for the ISIS staff to undermine, sabotage, and betray each other for personal gains and prosperity. Panelists include H. Jon Benjamin (Bob's Burgers, Jon Benjamin Has a Van) as the highly skilled yet incredibly vain master spy Sterling Archer; Aisha Tyler (Talk Soup, CSI) as fellow agent provocateur Lana Kane; Chris Parnell (Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock) as the easily intimidated comptroller of ISIS, Cyril Figgis; Judy Greer (Mad Love, Arrested Development) as the loquacious secretary, Cheryl/Carol; Amber Nash (Frisky Dingo,Aqua Teen Hunger Force) as the discordant director of human resources for ISIS, Pam Poovey; and George Coe (Funny People, Curb Your Enthusiasm) as Sterling's elderly and always-exploited butler, Woodhouse. Indigo Ballroom, Hilton San Diego Bayfront

5:30-7:30 Showtime : Tired of Ordinary Television?— This year at Comic-Con, Showtime saves! The casts and creative forces behind Dexter and Shameless give sneak peeks into the new seasons. And be the first to see an exclusive look at the new Showtime original series Homeland.
Dexter -- See the exclusive world premiere of the new season's trailer, then moderator Ralph Garman (KROQ entertainment reporter) will preside over a revealing interview and Q&A session with the stars and executive producers, including Michael C. Hall (star/executive producer), C. S. Lee (Masuka), David Zayas (Batista) , guest star Colin Hanks (Peter Jackson's King Kong, Roswell), and more. Also appearing are executive producers John Goldwyn, Sara Colleton, Scott Buck, and Manny Coto.

Shameless -- Come party with the cast and creative team behind the hottest new Showtime original series, Shameless. If you thought your family was dysfunctional, wait 'til you meet the Gallaghers. Get the inside scoop on what's in store for the new season as Mike Schneider (TV Guide Los Angeles bureau chief) leads an interview and Q&A with stars William H. Macy (Fargo, Jurassic Park III) and Emmy Rossum (Day After Tomorrow, Dragon Ball: Evolution ), plus more, along with executive producer John Wells (West Wing, ER, Southland).

Homeland -- This fall, the war on terror comes home in the new Showtime original series Homeland from executive producers/writers Howard Gordon (24, The X-Files) and Alex Gansa (24, The X-Files, Numb3rs), starring Claire Danes (Terminator 3), Damian Lewis (Band of Brothers, Life), Mandy Patinkin (The Princess Bride, Criminal Minds), and Morena Baccarin (V, Firefly). Comic-Con favorite Morena Baccarinwill make a special appearance to introduce exclusive footage fromHomeland. Ballroom 20
6:00-7:00 Road to Stumptown— Meet Greg Rucka (Gotham Central) and Matthew Southworth (Spider-Man: The Grim Hunt), the Eisner-nominated creative team behind the innovative new crime title Stumptown. Moderated by comics scholar ProfessorBen Saunders. Room 7AB

8:00-11:00 Hall H and Ballroom 20 Thursday Panel Playback— Didn't get into either Hall H or Ballroom 20 today? We feel your pain! In this three-hour block, Comic-Con rebroadcasts some of the day's popular panels from those two giant rooms. Best of all, those in attendance will get to vote on what they want to see. It's democracy at its finest and it's a second chance to see these panels. (Please note: these playbacks will include only the panel discussions. None of the film clips or footage shown at the live events will be shown.) Room 25ABC [This is a cool new feature of Comic-Con this year. I'll only list it once, but every night you can see the panels from Hall H and Ballroom 20, often impossible to get into, rebroadcast at the end of the day. I like it!]

Friday, July 22

10:00-11:00 Torchwood: Miracle Day— John Barrowman (Doctor Who) and Eve Myles (Doctor Who) join cast members Mekhi Phifer (ER), Bill Pullman (Independence Day), Alexa Havins (All My Children), and Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under), along with writer Jane Espenson (Battlestar Galactica), to discuss the fourth installment of the hit BBC Worldwide show, a Starz Originals co-production, currently airing Friday nights at 10 ET/PT on Starz. Ballroom 20

11:00-12:00 Page One— The opening page of a comic sets up everything that comes after it, for good or ill. Carla Speed McNeil (Finder), Jen Van Meter (Hopeless Savages), Greg Rucka (Stumptown), and moderator Douglas Wolk discuss great first pages of comics and the way they can instantly pull their audience in and establish the tone and themes of a story. Room 32AB

11:45-12:30 Adult Swim: The Venture Bros.— Show creators Jackson Publick andDoc Hammer will screen an early premiere of The Venture Bros. Special -- From the Ladle to the Grave: The Story of Shallow Gravy -- a 15-minute documentary-style animated special (premiering August 28 on Adult Swim), discuss their original series, and answer questions. The panel also features James Urbaniak (Dr. Venture). Indigo Ballroom, Hilton San Diego Bayfront

12:15-1:15 Relativity Media: Raven and Haywire— Two fantastic films from Relativity Media debut in this Hall H presentation.
Raven -- The film is a gritty thriller in which Edgar Allan Poe joins forces with a young Baltimore detective to hunt down a mad serial killer who's using Poe's own works as the basis for a string of brutal murders. Raven stars John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe, Luke Evans, and Alice Eve and is directed by James McTeigue.

Haywire -- An electrifying tale of espionage and betrayal. A female covert ops specialist who works in the deadly world of international operatives strikes back after discovering she's been double-crossed by someone close to her in the agency. Mixed martial arts superstar Gina Carano makes her feature film -- and Comic-Con -- debut, starring and performing her own high-adrenaline stunts. Also appearing is director Stephen Soderbergh. Hall H
1:00-2:00 Comics Arts Conference Session #7: Focus on David Lloyd— Comic-Con special guest David Lloyd (V for Vendetta, Kickback [James Bond 007: Shattered Helix]) discusses the nature of sequential art and the methods of its production, considering his own methods, and how those methods have changed over time, as well as the creation of comics more generally in various genres and national and historical traditions. He will also look at the teaching of sequential art, both to practitioners and to audiences, discussing his time at the London Cartoon Centre and the Cartoon Classroom project. Kathleen McClancy (Wake Forest University) moderates. Room 26AB

2:30-3:15 Adult Swim: Black Dynamite— Creators and voice talent from the new animated series offer a sneak peek at the show and answer questions. Executive producer Carl Jones (The Boondocks) and director Scott Sanders (Black Dynamite) appear, in addition to writer and star Michael Jai White, voice actors Tommy Davidsonand Kym Whitley, and writer/voice actor Byron Minns, all of whom also starred in the live-action feature film Black Dynamite. The 2009 movie is an outrageous action comedy/spoof that follows ex-CIA agent and full-time ladies' man Black Dynamite, who's out to avenge the death of his brother against kung-fu masters, drug-dealing pimps, and The Man. The Black Dynamite animated series further chronicles the exploits of Black Dynamite and his crew. Indigo Ballroom, Hilton San Diego Bayfront

Saturday, July 22

10:00-10:45 Chuck Screening and Q&A— Comic-Con fan-favorite Chuck returns with a bang for its farewell panel to celebrate its fifth and final season. Executive producer and co-creator Chris Fedak, along with series stars Zachary Levi (Alvin and the Chipmunks), Yvonne Strahovski (upcoming My Mother's Curse), Joshua Gomez (Without a Trace), Ryan McPartlin, Mark Christopher Lawrence (The Pursuit of Happyness), Vik Sahay (Good Will Hunting), Scott Krinsky (The O.C.) with Sarah Lancaster (The Good Doctor), and Adam Baldwin (Serenity), offer a Q&A with fans and an unforgettable video presentation. Produced by Fake Empire, Wonderland Sound and Vision in association with Warner Bros. Television, Chuck airs Friday at 8:00 ET/PT on NBC, and Chuck: The Complete Fourth Season will be released on Blu-ray and DVD this fall. Ballroom 20

10:00-11:00 Motion Picture and Television Production Designers— In collaboration with a highly skilled art department, the production designer lays out the designs that will guide a small army of decorators, carpenters, sculptors, painters, and artisans of all sorts, to bring into existence those fantastic worlds that fire everyone's imagination. Panelists include moderator John Muto (Terminator 2:3D), Cece DeStefano (Alias), Jim Bissell (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol), Edward Thomas(Torchwood, Dr. Who), and Greg Melton (The Walking Dead). Room 25ABC

11:30-12:30 Spotlight on Steranko— Comic-Con special guest Steranko, the Eisner Hall of Fame-winning writer/illustrator/filmmaker/escape artist, presents a provocative forum featuring his work on Captain America, X-Men, Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Shadow, Indiana Jones and more, including a new series of Batman covers and his groundbreaking graphic novel Red Tide. Moderator J. David Spurlock promises to reveal a new storm of secrets from the Steranko bag of tricks. Room 5AB

1:30-2:30 Spotlight on Peter Kuper— From MAD to World War 3 Illustrated, Comic-Con special guest Peter Kuper (Spy vs. Spy) has for three decades been blowing up spies and politicians and creating graphic novels ranging from Franz Kafka adaptations to autobiographies that would scare Kafka. Get an inside look at how he comes up with Spy vs. Spy ideas and his other idiotic projects! Room 8

5:00-6:00 Charlie's Angels— The cast and creative team from Sony TV's highly anticipated action-packed series Charlie's Angels for ABC -- Annie Ilonzeh (General Hospital), Minka Kelly (Parenthood, Friday Night Lights), Rachael Taylor (Grey's Anatomy), Ramon Rodriguez (The Wire, Daybreak) and executive producers Alfred Gough (Smallville) and Miles Millar (Smallville) come to Comic-Con to discuss their new series. The series is also executive-produced by Drew Barrymore (Charlie's Angels movies), Leonard Goldberg (the original Charlie's Angels), Nancy Juvonen (Charlie's Angels movies), and Marcos Siega (Vampire Diaries, Dexter). Join the cast & producers for a dynamic discussion and Q&A session about what's in store for viewers this fall! Indigo Ballroom, Hilton San Diego Bayfront

6:00-6:45 Nikita Screening and Q&A— Nikita returns to Comic-Con with series starsMaggie Q (Mission: Impossible 3), Shane West (ER), Lyndsy Fonseca (Kick-Ass), and executive producer Craig Silverstein (Bones) for its latest mission: to unveil an exclusive video presentation and reveal classified information from the highly anticipated second season that finds Nikita and Michael on the run with a black box containing the government's darkest secrets. Leading the hunt for them is Alex...and she knows all of Nikita's tricks. What will the Comic-Con Q&A reveal? From Wonderland Sound and Vision in association with Warner Bros. Television, Nikita airs Fridays at 8/7c on The CW. Nikita: The Complete First Season will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on August 30. Room 6BCF

6:45-7:30 Person of Interest Pilot Screening and Q&A— A peerless creative team is behind this new white-knuckle action series -- including creator/executive producer Jonathan Nolan (The Dark Knight) and showrunner/executive producer Greg Plageman (Cold Case) -- about an ex-CIA agent, presumed dead, who partners with a mysterious billionaire to prevent violent crimes in New York City. Join these producers plus stars Jim Caviezel (The Thin Red Line), Michael Emerson (Lost), andTaraji P. Henson (Academy Award nominee, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) for an inside look at one of the most anticipated new shows of the fall season, including an exclusive screening of the pilot episode and Q&A. From Bonanza Productions Inc. in association with Bad Robot Productions and Warner Bros. Television, Person of Interest will air Thursdays at 9/8c on CBS. Room 6BCF

7:30-8:30 The Art of the Hollywood Movie Poster— Who are the talented artists Hollywood has tapped for the creation of some of the best movie posters in recent history? Leslie Combemale (film art expert and owner, ArtInsights Animation and Film Art Gallery) moderates a panel of artists who have worked on hundreds of movie posters and movie campaigns, including Andrea Alvin (Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Pinocchio poster artist, wife and artistic partner of late cinema art legend John Alvin), Matthew Peak (Nightmare on Elm Street poster artist, son of famed movie poster artist Bob Peak), Steve Chorney (Labyrinth, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Star Trek), James Goodridge (Inglorious Basterds, Harry Potter), and Lawrence Noble (The Empire Strikes Back 10th Anniversary, Time After Time, Flash Gordon). They will relay stories of the creation of some well-recognized and most appreciated movie posters, discuss the current atmosphere of the world of cinema art, and offer suggestions for artists who wish to take up the craft. This panel will include a short Q&A. Room 8

Sunday, July 24

Not much spy programming on Sunday, as far as I can tell. Take the time to stroll around the dealer floor and find some James Bond posters or Nick Fury back issues! Or check out that cool Doctor Who panel. That's where I'll be Sunday afternoon...

Jul 19, 2011

New Spy DVDs Out This Last Week

I'm a week late with this, but that kind of works out because as far as I know there are no major spy releases out this week. As of last week, though, America is finally caught up with Britain on seasons of MI-5 (known as Spooks in the UK), for the first time in the series' nine-year run! Because of a weird yearly January release schedule, we've always been a whole year behind, which kind of sucks when the storylines are often closely tied in to contemporary headlines. Now we're on the same page, just in time for the show's last season, due to air this fall in the UK and presumably to come out on DVD here next January. Last week's BBC release of MI-5: Volume 9 is a 3-disc set, retailing for $39.98 (though it's cheaper on Amazon). For once, there are no extras whatsoever, which is unfortunate, as the show's early seasons were packed with bonus features, and recent ones had featured at least a few. Oh well. Maybe that's the trade-off for finally getting a season half a year earlier.

She doesn't do it too often, but I love it when Agatha Christie ventures into spy territory in her mysteries. (And I would really love to see adaptations one day of her few straight-up espionage novels like They Came to Baghdad or Destination Unknown one day.) Agatha Christie's Poirot Movie Collection Set 6, out last week from Acorn on DVD and Blu-ray, contains one such venture in "The Clocks," when Poirot is recruited by the British Secret Service to look into some murders in Dover involving possible German spies on the eve of WWII. And, of course, there are secret documents to be recovered. As a bonus for Bond fans, Tomorrow Never Dies' Admiral Roebuck Geoffrey Palmer turns up as another Admiral. Plus, as the title indicates, it's one of those Christie mysteries that depends on clocks and timetables, and who doesn't love those? The other mysteries in this collection are "Three Act Tragedy" and "Halowe'en Party." Retail is a typically steep $49.99 for the DVD and $59.99 for the Blu-ray.

Read my review of MI-5: Volume 1
Read my review of MI-5: Volume 2
Read my review of MI-5: Volume 3
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy Poster

Empire (via Dark Horizons) has the one-sheet for Tomas Alfredson's John Le Carré adaptation Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and, like the trailer (and like the miniseries and like the book), it's awesome. Bask in it!

Jul 18, 2011

Upcoming Spy DVDs: Carlos (2010)

The Criterion Collection has announced DVD and Blu-ray editions of Olivier Assayas' 2010 epic Carlos. If you were annoyed that the Matt Damon films of Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne novels omitted the notorious real-life terrorist who served as Bourne's primary antagonist in the books, this 339-minute opus is sure to deliver all the Ilich Ramírez Sanchez action you could possibly desire. Carlos tracks the man better known as Carlos the Jackal (a nickname given by the press and inspired by another spy novel, Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal) in what Criterion's copy describes as "an intensely detailed account of the life of the infamous international terrorist."
One of the twentieth century’s most-wanted fugitives, Carlos was committed to violent left-wing activism throughout the seventies and eighties, orchestrating bombings, kidnappings, and hijackings in Europe and the Middle East. Assayas portrays him not as a criminal mastermind but as a symbol of seismic political shifts around the world, and the magnetic Édgar Ramírez [who, oddly, did appear as an antagonist in The Bourne Ultimatum, just not Carlos] brilliantly embodies him as a swaggering global gangster. Criterion presents the complete, uncut, director-approved, five-and-a-half-hour version of Carlos.
This release is the full 339-minute version that aired as a mini-series on European and American television (and is available to view on Netflix streaming), not the cut-down theatrical version released in some movie theaters. Besides Criterion's usual high-definition digital transfer (supervised by cinematographers Denis Lenoir and Yorick Le Saux), the DVD and Blu-ray editions include new video interviews with Assayas, Ramírez, and Lenoir, selected-scene commentary from Lenoir, the hour-long documentary on the terrorist's real-life career "Carlos: Terrorist Without Borders," an archival interview with Carlos associate Hans-Joachim Klein, a feature-length documentary on a Carlos bombing not included in the film called "Maison de France," a twenty-minute making-of documentary on the film’s OPEC raid scene, the original theatrical trailer and a booklet featuring essays by critics Colin MacCabe and Greil Marcus, as well as a timeline of Carlos’s life and biographies of selected figures portrayed in the film, written by Carlos’s historical adviser, Stephen Smith. That's a heck of a lot of extras!

Jul 17, 2011

The Persuaders! Comes to Blu-ray in the UK

Network has announced a fall release for a 40th anniversary edition of The Persuaders!: The Complete Series in high definition. Of course, like all of Network's Blu-ray releases, we can expect this one to be for Region B, limiting it primarily to European and Australian viewers or North Americans with an all-region Blu-ray player. The picture looks stunning (a vast improvement over any DVD version I've seen), as evidenced even in the promotional video below. In addition to that, Network has lived up to our high expectations of the company and provided a wealth of bonus material. Some of it was included on their previous DVD collection (which already boasted some pretty impressive extras), and some (most tantalizingly a new 156-page book by Andrew Pixley!) is new to this set. Here's the rundown:

• Digitally restored, High Definition transfers
• 156 page fully-bound book of viewing notes by Andrew Pixley
• Recently found, extensive textless material (including some behind the scenes) (HD)
• Previously unseen alternate title sequence (HD)
• Extensive HD image galleries of rare and previously unseen stills
• 1972 Sun TV Awards footage with Tony Curtis
• Contemporary French interview on location from 1971
• Moore and Curtis reunion on the Alan Titchmarsh Show from 2008
• Merchandise image gallery (HD)
The Morning After - Remembering The Persuaders! exclusive documentary
• Commentaries with Roger Moore, Tony Curtis and production staff
• AVROSkoop contemporary documentary from 1971
• Top of the Pops promotional video for John Barry's theme
• Promotional spots
• Trailers and archive newsreel footage
• Tony Curtis interviewed by Russell Harty
• French titles
• Commercial break bumpers
• Script PDFs
• International movie versions and trailers for London Conspiracy, Mission: Monte Carlo, Sporting Chance and The Switch
• and more

Those "international movie versions" were feature films created for the foreign market by editing together two episodes of the series. They were previously available on the company's DVD set, as were the documentary and commentaries. I'm glad that all of that stuff is presented again on this collection, making it truly a complete package. (Well... almost complete. I'm guessing Network probably haven't managed to license the different commentary tracks recorded for A&E's Region 1 DVD release.) All 24 episodes of the fantastic series (probably my favorite ITC show) have undergone an HD restoration this Blu-ray edition.

The 8-disc set will be out on September 19, with a suggested retail price of £79.99. However, it's already listed at a substantial discount on Network's website: just £53.10.

To promote the release, the company has organized a big 40th anniversary celebration event, "The Time and the Place." The guest of honor will be Sir Roger Moore himself, who will discuss his career and his role in the show. The actual time and place of "The Time and the Place" will be 6pm on September 10, 2011, at Kent House, Knightsbridge, beginning a food and drinks reception followed by an HD screening of two episodes selected by Moore, “Overture” and “A Death in the Family.” (Great selections, Sir Roger!) A Q&A and signing session with the star follow. Speaking of restorations, the original restored Aston Martin from the series will also be on display. Perhaps best of all, Network promises that "a special prize will be awarded to the person who attends in the best 70s attire!" A roomful of people dressed up in velvet jackets and cravats of the sort favored by Brett Sinclair and Danny Wilde would be well worth attending even without the presence of Roger Moore, in my opinion. As with the 50th Anniversary celebration of The Avengers that took place earlier this summer (another event like the London Kiss Kiss Kill Kill one that I meant to cover but never got around to until it was too late), I really, really wish I could be there. For those lucky fans who can, tickets can currently be ordered from Network's website. £40 gets you into the reception, screening and Q&A; £80 gets you “The Gold Napoleon” deal which includes all that plus an advance copy of the Blu-ray and an opportunity to have it signed by Sir Roger personally. Chances are if you're going to this event, you're already planning on buying it anyway, so why not spring for the Gold Napoleon? I don't mean to sound like a shill, but I know I would...

Now here's that promotional video showing off the HD restoration:

Jul 15, 2011

Cinemax's Transporter Series Adds Stars and Cars

Cinemax's new TV version of the Luc Besson-created Transporter franchise (featuring Frank Martin, the character originated on the big screen by Jason Statham) has added a few more stars to its cast, including the all-important car. InAutoNews reports that previously cast TV Transporter Chris Vance will drive an Audi A8, continuing the franchise's relationship with the carmaker that began with the second theatrical installment. And the car brand isn't all that will feel familiar from the films. Additionally, Screenrant reports that French actor François Berléand will reprise his role from the films as Inspector Tarconi, Martin's friend and occasional fishing partner. Berléand, Vance and the previously annonced Andrea Osvart will also be joined by actresses Delphine Chanéac (the 2006 Pink Panther) and Rachel Skarsten (Birds of Prey) as, respectively, Olivia, a reporter tracking Martin’s work, and Delia, the mysterious daughter of a man from Martin’s past. Lost and Undercovers director Stephen Williams will helm the pilot.

Jul 14, 2011

Japanese Mission: Impossible 4 Trailer Has the Right Music!

Now this is cool! It's too bad that there's so much less Jeremy Renner in the Japanese trailer for Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (is he not the rising star yet internationally that Hollywood so wants him to be here?), but it's very, very cool that there's so much more of Lalo Schifrin's classic "Mission: Impossible Theme!" For me, seeing this footage (nothing new; we've seen it all in the American trailer already) cut to this music - the right music - makes all the difference in the world! (The Eminem song was not working for me.) In fact, this trailer now looks sort of almost like it could be for a really high budget episode of the TV series... which is pretty much the highest compliment I can pay to director Brad Bird. Speaking of, wouldn't it be cool if this one opened the way that Brian DePalma's original Mission: Impossible movie opened in 1996, with an homage to the TV series' title sequence showing a bunch of scenes to come cut together quickly with a burning fuse set to Schifrin's theme? Yes, it would. I just answered my own question there.

Jul 13, 2011

Tradecraft: Ed Norton to Antagonize Non-Bourne?

The Hollywood Reporter's Heat Vision blog is reporting that Edward Norton is in talks to reteam with his Rounders co-star Matt Damon in... Oh, wait! No, he's not in it. Right, right; this is the Bourne movie without Bourne, Tony Gilroy's odd franchise spin-off The Bourne Legacy. Let's start again. Heat Vision reports that Norton is in talks to star opposite Jeremy Renner, the de facto spy fill-in of the moment (also reportedly set to take the Mission: Impossible torch from Tom Cruise after their co-starring turn in Ghost Protocol), in The Bourne Legacy. Norton would play the villain, which is cool. (But it would have been cooler to see him go up against Damon, I think.) Hiring Ed Norton makes me think that this villain will have more lines than the traditionally silent Bourne antagonists, like Clive Owen in the first film, Karl Urban in the second and Edgar Ramirez in the third. (Ironically, Ramirez went on to portray Carlos the Jackal, Bourne's antagonist from the Robert Ludlum books, so far absent from all the new movies, in the acclaimed mini-series Carlos.) Heat Vision also reports that the newly minted Mrs. Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, is co-starring in the film; last I'd heard her involvement was far from firm. This movie is shaping up to have a terrific cast, and I hope the finished product equals or exceeds the sum of its parts. I'd be 200% on board if Renner was playing David Webb (the character best known as Jason Bourne, formerly played by Matt Damon), 007-style. The only thing that has me apprehensive about this movie is the weird spin-off movie. Who wants to watch a movie where the main character is just some random other guy from the same universe as the title character? Gilroy is a very good writer and director, but he has his work cut out for him making this work. I'm definitely hoping he pulls it off, because I love these movies...

Jul 11, 2011

Tradecraft: So... Maybe a Spy Movie?

Deadline reports that Open Road, the new distribution company releasing the Statham'n'Owen spy actioner Killer Elite, has acquired US distribution rights for a thriller called The Key Man by Joby Harold. Hm. Well, that title sounds kind of possibly like a spy movie, right? Maybe? Let's see what financier Bill Block has to say. According to the QED International topper, the movie "recalls great films like Three Days Of The Condor and Marathon Man and is built on a fantastic story in the vein of The Da Vinci Code and National Treasure, and will appeal to a broad global audience.” Hm. Doesn't give us too much more to go on, but the first two movies he name-checks are spy movies, so maybe... We'll stick with maybe and keep monitoring this one as more information becomes available.

Jul 10, 2011

Johnny English Reborn Posters: A Little Intelligence Goes A Long Way

The IMP Awards have the first posters for the Rowan Atkinson spy spoof sequel Johnny English Reborn. There are several more besides this quad on the site. I like the tagline, "A little Intelligence goes a long way."

Jul 8, 2011

Upcoming Spy DVDs: Hot Enough For June for... August

"Camps" on the Eurospy Forum recently called attention to two exciting upcoming Region 1 DVD releases in the genre.

Hot Enough For June, also known as Agent 8 3/4, is one of my favorite Eurospy movies. It's not one of the best, but it's just so charming it's one of the ones I enjoy watching the most. (Being British, it's also notable for a significantly higher budget than some of the Italian and Spanish entries.) This 1964 spy parody came early in the 007-inspired wave, so it doesn't quite conform to the standard post-Goldfinger template for Eurospy adventures and still has one foot in the earlier spy cycle, but in the hands of Deadlier Than the Male's producer/director team of Betty Box and Ralph Thomas, it's all the better for that. It also boasts a fantastic cast, a sort of Sixties Spy All-Stars line-up including half of Deadlier's female duo, the sumptuous Sylva Koscina (whose glamorous looks often eclipse the fact that she's also got a wonderful light comedic touch, on full display here), Modesty Blaise scene-stealer Dirk Bogarde (one of my favorite actors) and The Prisoner's most memorable Number 2, Leo McKern. Noel Harrison (The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.), Robert Morley (Some Girls Do) and the always reliable John Le Mesurier (The Avengers, The Liquidator, The Pink Panther, etc.) lend support. The plot is simple enough: an out-of-work writer (Bogarde) gets sent on a job interview by the unemployment office that turns out to be British Intelligence's latest surreptitious recruiting effort. Unaware that he'll be acting as a courier, he jets off behind the Iron Curtain and falls in love with Koscina. It doesn't help that her father (McKern) is a bigwig in the secret police who, like everyone but Bogarde himself, realizes Bogarde is a spy. That bit about MI6 recruiting from the unemployment line is brilliant escapist fantasy (and struck a chord with me when I first saw this movie, at a time that I was collecting unemployment myself). It's a great set-up, and a really fun movie that any fan of that era's spy films should definitely see. And in August, that will finally be possible for American viewers!

VCI Entertainment will release the movie on DVD and, amazingly, Blu-ray on August 16. That same day, the company will also issue the 1958 Bogarde adventure movie Campbell's Kingdom (in which, to my amusement, at least, Bogarde plays an adventurer named Bruce Campbell!). There's no spying in that one, but fans of the actor may still be interested enough to check it out. (I've seen it pop up from time to time on TCM, too.) Hot Enough For June was previously issued in a very nice Region 2 disc from Network. The VCI release will be in 1.78:1 16x9 anamorphic widescreen and include the trailer and a photo gallery. My only gripe with it is the cover art. Hot Enough For June had so much good artwork used in its various campaigns around the world that it's one of only three spy movies (along with Deadlier Than the Male and Fathom) for which I've sought out a poster from every country of its release. We get a bit of that artwork along the bottom, but the top is taken up with a kind of weird picture of Bogarde and Koscina with an odd lens flare. Plus, they're going with the inferior American title of Agent 8 3/4. Oh well; none of that really matters. What matters is that we're getting Hot Enough For June on Blu-ray! I honestly never thought I'd see that happen. Retail is $24.99 for the Blu-ray and $19.99 for the DVD.

Making August 16 truly a red letter day for Eurospy aficionados, that same day will see release from Code Red of a double feature of Stoney aka The Surbaya Conspiracy (1969) and The Killer Likes Candy (1968). Code Red already released The Killer Likes Candy a few years ago as part of their Rare Flix series, and you can read my review of that disc (and the movie) here. That version was full-frame and the print left a lot to be desired, so I would hope that the reason for this reissue is because the company's found a better, ideally widescreen, source. I don't know that for sure, though, because that information hasn't yet been made available. But if you don't own any version of The Killer Likes Candy yet, you'll definitely want to buy it anyway. It's a very fun Eurospy movie starring Kerwin Mathews in one of his post-OSS 117 "almost-OSS 117" spy roles. Honestly, I don't know anything about Stoney beyond what the company's copy says, but that copy includes the phrases "international mishmash of espionage" and "Barbara Bouchet," so I'm definitely on board! Retail for the double feature disc is just $16.98 (though DiabolikDVD has it available to pre-order for $13.99). Plus, unlike VCI, Code Red churned out a cool, lurid cover using original poster art!
First Photo of Burn Notice's Agent Pearce in Action

Read my interview with Agent Pearce herself, Lauren Stamile, here.

TV.com has unveiled the first photo I've seen of Michael Westen's newest CIA contact, Agent Kim Pearce, played by Lauren Stamile. Pictured here with Bruce Campbell as Sam Axe, Pearce debuts in this season's sixth episode and will likely stick around for some time to come. I'll post an exclusive interview with Stamile in a few weeks. (UPDATE: Now you can read that interview here.)
Blu-Ray Review: Unknown (2011)

The theatrical marketing campaign for Unknown was determined to convince audiences that it was Taken in Berlin. While I can see why Warner Brothers would be keen to piggyback on that massive hit with the same star in a similar European setting, ultimately I think the comparison did their movie a disservice. Unknown is not Taken 2, and fans expecting the sort of non-stop action and ass-kicking that that movie delivered probably came away disappointed. But Unknown is a very tight Euro-thriller in its own right; it’s just a mystery with action rather than an action movie with a mystery. And when the action comes, it’s handled very well by director Jaume Collet-Serra; you can always tell exactly what’s going on and the sequences manage to be impressive while not being flashy or over-edited.

Screen captures reflect DVD picture, not Blu-ray
Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, an American biologist scheduled to give a lecture at a conference in Berlin. January Jones (X-Men: First Class) plays his wife, Liz, who accompanies him on the trip. As she’s checking in at their hotel, he realizes that he left his briefcase with all his lecture notes at the airport and hops in a cab to go back. The cab, driven by a Bosnian refugee and illegal immigrant named Gina (Diane Kruger), gets into a horrific accident and plunges into a river. Martin is knocked unconscious, but Gina pulls him out—then disappears. He awakes three days later in a hospital. He had no identification on him, so the doctors didn’t know who he was or who to contact. He’s also got partial amnesia, a convenient device for which a doctor handily explains, “There are no rules for severe trauma of this sort. Memories get lost or fractured. Most of them return, although it’s unlikely you’ll ever fully recall the events around your accident.” Luckily, Martin does recall Liz, and he immediately rushes to the hotel to see his wife, who he assumes will be freaking out not knowing where he’s been. When he finds her, however, she seems not to recognize him. Indeed, when he claims to be her husband, she introduces another man (Aidan Quinn) as her husband—the real Dr. Martin Harris. He’s even got a passport to back him up. What’s going on?

The premise (highly reminiscent of the 1969 Roger Moore movie The Man Who Haunted Himself, by the way) seemed preposterous enough that I figured there was no way the filmmakers could provide a satisfactory resolution to their intriguing mystery, but happily I was wrong. That they do ultimately pull that off (one that’s not merely satisfactory, in fact, but satisfying—and surprising!) is no small accomplishment.

Unknown begins with an impressively fast set-up. Collet-Serra and screenwriters Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell (who, interestingly, is the son of David Cornwell, better known as John Le Carré!) convey all of the necessary exposition very quickly, then launch right into the plot. (I haven’t read Didier Van Cauwelaert’s novel Out of My Head, so I have no idea how faithful the movie is to its source material.) Just a few minutes into the film, we’re already familiar with the primary characters, their situation and the setting. Despite the expediency of the set-up, Collet-Serra still has time for some great wintery Berlin scenery, which serves not only as pleasing eye candy, but also helps set the tone of the movie. All of this unfolds beneath some very stylish credits. The credits are representative, in fact, of the film to come. They aren’t especially showy David Fincher-type credits, and they don’t comprise a spectacular mini-film in their own right the way Bond titles do, but they’re classy and good looking.

Even while taking the time to give us all the scenic shots I crave as Martin and Liz ride in a taxi from the airport to their hotel (as any good Eurospy movie should), Collet-Serra still manages to plunge fully into the plot by just seven minutes in when Martin is in his accident. The accident itself is well choreographed and well shot. Like the credits, the stunt isn’t too fancy; it happens simply and straightforwardly, and you can actually tell what’s going on, actually see the physics of it in action, something I vastly prefer to the post-Bourne quick-cut nonsense of Quantum of Solace, where brief shaky-cam glimpses of cars cut quickly together manage to convey that a crash has occurred, but don’t let us see how.

Martin’s predicament quickly worsens when he becomes aware (in the course of a very suspenseful scene in the hospital) that mysterious assassins are trying to kill him. The only one who might be able to help him is the taxi driver, Gina, but she’s disappeared. Luckily, Martin’s resourceful enough to track her down. Diane Kruger is at her most appealing as Gina, and in the tradition of the genre going back at least as far as The 39 Steps, Martin quickly gets her mixed up in his deadly situation even though she’s completely innocent, and inadvertantly brings death to her doorstep. Suddenly the two are thrust together on an adventure that takes them through rave clubs (the post-Alias equivalent of the old Eurospy nightclub scene, replete with house music, flashing colored lights and blue-haired, pierced beauties—an environment in which Liam Neeson seems very out of place!) and the snowy streets of Berlin in a breakneck car chase. It’s not Bullitt, but once again, you can follow the action, tell what’s going on. And the inevitable resulting crash even involves cable cars on tracks! (That’s exactly the sort of thing I want to see in any Europe-set spy movie worth its salt.)

The chase might have made a bit more sense if Kruger were driving instead of Neeson, since she’s a local taxi driver who would both know the streets and presumably how to drive better than he does… but oh well. (She does get her own—admittedly less spectacular—car chase later.) The filmmakers were clearly thinking that Neeson needed an action scene at this point; he is, after all, the hero. Fans waiting for any Taken-style ass-kicking, however, will have to wait until the halfway mark for Neeson to finally fight someone—a spectacled assassin who’s been following him. It’s a good brawl, but since this character is a Hitchcockian Everyman caught up in a wild conspiracy instead of a trained operative like Bryan Mills, his style of fighting isn’t nearly so badass.

German actor Bruno Ganz steals the movie as an old Stassi agent with no regrets who now operates as a private detective. At the recommendation of a nurse, Martin turns to him for help. His character, Jürgen, could be right out of one of Stephen Cornwell’s dad’s books. In the movie’s best scene, a summit of sorts between two old Cold Warriors still dabbling in their trade, Jürgen is asked, “Why did you take his case?”

“Curiosity,” he replies.

“Is that all?”

“There’s not much in this world left to interest an old spy like me,” says Jürgen, invoking that favorite Le Carré theme of the old spy who can’t stop spying.

When Martin finally arrives at a solution to his the genuinely perplexing predicament (thanks to the aid of Jürgen and Gina), it actually surprised me. What surprised me more than the solution itself was the fact that it actually works—more or less. Sure there are a few loose ends that aren’t entirely explained, but overall, it works, and it’s not something that I’ve seen before exactly (though it’s a clever variation on an old plot spy fans have seen a lot).

Overall, spy fans will find a lot to please them in Unknown. It offers a great genre star in a great genre setting (one of the classic spy movie locations, too long unused!), cinematography that makes the most of both, cool chases and crashes involving cable cars, beautiful women, a top-notch supporting cast (which also includes cool turns by Frank Langella and The Lives of Others’ Sebastian Koch in small parts) and even some clever nods to genre antecedents as disparate as Le Carré, Ludlum and Mission: Impossible. (There’s an unexpected variation on Jim Phelps’ traditional briefing of his team toward the end.) Best of all, it offers all of these elements in a tight story that packs some genuine and satisfying twists. I could think of plenty of worse ways for a spy fan to pass a few hours.

The presentation on Warner’s Blu-ray is unimpeachable, boasting a fantastic transfer that showcases that nice cinematography, low-key action and fantastic Berlin locations to their maximum advantage. The extras, however, leave a little to be desired. There are only two on the Blu-ray, and only one on the DVD—but DVD viewers aren’t really missing anything. There’s enough overlap in the things that these two very brief EPK pieces cover that you don’t even need to see them both. The BD exclusive, “Liam Neeson: Known Action Hero,” is basically a very short piece with people saying nice things about Liam Neeson… but I can’t begrudge it that, because who doesn’t like seeing nice things said about Liam Neeson? The most interesting anecdote comes from Neeson himself, who recounts a story about when he used to box and once got knocked out and came to briefly not remembering who or where he was. That (very short) run-in with amnesia made him feel like he had a handle on this character.

The unimaginatively titled “Unknown: What is Known?” is just as short, and even repeats some of the same beats on Neeson as the other featurette. Happily, it does contain some brief sound bites from just about everyone involved in the production: producer Joel Silver, director Collet-Serra and all the actors (even Germans Ganz and Koch)… but not the writers! I want to see the junior Cornwell! Oh well. (There was also too much January Jones and not enough Diane Kruger.) Neeson and Aiden Quinn repeat a bit from the other featurette about being old friends, and consequently enjoying their drag-out fight scene together. Silver points out that you shouldn’t see the twist coming, but when it does it will make sense, and I have to admit, he’s right. And that's the reason you should check out Unknown on disc, not because of these lackluster EPK featurettes!

Unknown, out June 21, is now available to own now on Blu-ray, DVD and Blu-ray/DVD Combo. Learn more about the release on Warner Bros.’ official website.